A Second Chance -- Chapter 59

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A Second Chance

By Dawn Natelle

Shootout at the Oak Street Corral

TUESDAY, June 21, 2016

Constable Steve Winslow was up early. His new wife Helen got up with him, and made him a hot breakfast before kissing him as he left for the church at 5 a.m. He was the first there, although Gary showed up seconds later, looking as if he had been up all night. In a few more minutes all the team was present, except for Inspector John Bell.

“Sorry I’m late,” the Inspector said as he hurried into the church basement where the meeting was being held. My wife was giving me hassles again. I didn’t tell her why I was going to work so early, but she is sure something is up.”

“We have a problem,” Gary said. “The men in the house across the street reported that four more people entered the house at dusk last night, so there are six people in there. They also report that the original two people have not left their original location. I mean, wouldn’t they at least have gone to the washroom once in nearly 24 hours?”

Gary showed some thermo pictures of the house taken at midnight. “There are two persons in this upstairs room, and two more downstairs, as well as the original two. And there were reports from the men outside the house of some kind of scuffle between the newcomers and the original two. They said it sounded as though the new people were beating on the originals, who were crying out in pain for some time after.”

He scrolled to another image, this one taken from a normal cell phone. It showed the newcomers arriving. One, clearly a woman, carried nothing. Two others were carrying large duffle bags, and another held what appeared to be a large gun covered by a blanket. At some point on the way in, the blanket slipped, and the man from the Hobo Army had gotten a good shot of the gun before the blanket was put back over the weapon.

“Shit, is that an AK-47?” Steve gasped.

“One of the boys is a bit of a gun nut, and he claims that it is an AK-103, the newer version of the 47,” Gary said. “He said people in chat groups have offered over $30,000 to get one of the guns, but no one has seen one in Canada. Lots of Americans are willing to sell one at that price, but they are notoriously hard to smuggle across the border. Word is that there are none in Canada.”

“Well, it looks like there is one here now, and it is in Ingersoll,” Steve said.

“Theoretically the gun can fire 600 rounds a minute, but the cartridge of the type in the picture holds 30 rounds. Hopefully he only has the one cartridge. It only takes a couple seconds to change to a second cart, if he has one,” Gary said.

“All right,” the chief said. “This changes everything. Gary, I want your people out at 6 a.m., if not sooner, to evacuate the area. Send everyone here to the church. Can your staff make them a breakfast? I want that street blocked off immediately, if not sooner. Put a couple auxiliaries at either end to stop both pedestrian and vehicular traffic. We’ll park a squad car at either end to improve the police presence. They should be out of range if the idiots start shooting. My budget won’t allow for any new cruisers if we get those shot up.”

He turned to the Inspector. “John, you will be the on site officer in charge for our men. But you are to let Stan Sleniak, the OPP officer running the SWAT team, have full control. It will be his show. I’m going to phone him now and let him know the change in situation. Can you call the judge in Woodstock and see if that warrant can be expedited? Send an officer right now, and have him wait for it.”

“Or her,” Steve suggested. “Officer Cierra should be starting her shift soon.”

The team split up to make phone calls and issue orders. They reconvened about 15 minutes later.

“The SWAT team should be here by 8,” the chief reported first. “They are already on the way. Stan seems to think they can take out a man with an assault rifle, if his men are deployed correctly.”

“The judge is going in to work on the warrant,” Inspector Bell reported. “I seem to be cursed with upsetting women today. I got the judge’s wife out of bed, and she had some choice words for me when I asked to talk to the judge. Velma, officer Cierra, is on the way and should be back within an hour, if the judge issues the warrant. When I told him we had photos of a AK-103 going into the house he seemed to feel that the warrant would be a no brainer.”

“The Hobo Army is out in full force,” Gary said. “The street will be blocked off in minutes, and the men are going to any house that shows lights that indicate someone is up, and evacuating them first. The residents will be led to the church in whichever direction means they don’t need to pass in front of the grow op. At 6 a.m. the men will start waking people up and evacuating the rest of the area. And we still have two men in the house across the street. They will go into the basement if there is any shooting.”

“That should be safe, but I want them down there before we serve the warrant,” the chief said. “A bullet from an AK-103 will go right through most vehicles, and still have enough power to kill. There will be stray bullets going into that house. I don’t want to find any bodies in there when this is all over. I’m glad we decided to evacuate the houses behind Oak Street.”

“Steve noted that he had ordered cruisers for either end of Oak Street, and they would be in position and out of sight of the house.

Then it was hurry up and wait. First Constable Vierra came in with the warrant. It was written in her name, so she would be one of the team that serves it. Steve announced that he was going to be her backup, and neither the chief nor the inspector disputed this.

Shortly thereafter the SWAT team pulled up at the church, and 14 officers in black uniforms piled out of their sparkling new van, purchased and equipped for a cost of nearly $250,000 and put into service only weeks ago. This was the first non-training use of the team.

Stan Sleniak was in his early 50s, like the chief, and was still fit for a man of middle age. His hair was grey, and his face had lines of experience, but he was a man born to be a commander, and this SWAT team was his chance to prove himself. The chief walked him over to the grow op, with several of his senior officers, to take a look at the target house, which was still in darkness. They looked at the latest thermographic images. Stan looked at his watch: it was 8:05.

“We are going to roll at 8:30,” he announced. “I want your officers to stand behind trees out of sight of the house before then, and once we roll the van into position at 8:30 they should approach the building with all caution. I will have four snipers positioned behind trees to the west and east of the house. The door opens to the east, so your officers should stand at the west, the right, so that my snipers can have a clear shot into the house when the door opens.”

Steve nodded. Even though the warrant had Velma’s name on it, they both knew that Steve would be in charge at the door. They edged over to the tree closest to the door of the house. Oak Street had been planted with oak trees along the street when it was developed 140 years ago, and they were now huge, each one four feet or more across, providing room for several officers behind each tree. Most important, they would stop a bullet from an AK-103.

At 8:30 the SWAT vehicle pulled up in front of the grow op. Inspector Stan felt the presence of his vehicle would intimidate the bad guys. Eight men rolled out of the back, the others were already in position. Steve and Velma walked quickly and confidently up to the porch and stood at the right of the door. Steve rapped loudly at the door, calling out: “Police. Open up. We have a warrant.”

For about 10 seconds nothing happened. Then Steve had a feeling, and moved to the left of the door, pulling Velma with him. Seconds later all hell broke loose, with bullets fired from within the house tearing through the siding to the right side of the door, where the officers had stood seconds before. Steve grabbed Velma, and then dove over the porch railing, landing in the weeds that were growing wild there.

When Steve had moved, Inspector Sleniak cursed him as an incompetent who was jeopardizing the entire operation by not following the plan. But when the bullets started flying, and he watch the two officers dive off the porch, he realized that both would have died in that initial hail of bullets. With 22 bullets going to the left of the door, and then 6 more across the door itself, nearly splitting it in half, and then two lone bullets to the right, the dive of the two officers seemed to be lucky.

There was no action for the next few minutes, but after nearly 10 minutes Sleniak used the van loudspeaker to hail the house and offer the occupants a chance to surrender. The door to the house opened, and all SWAT guns aimed at it, waiting to see if the occupants would come peacefully, or something else.

It was something else. A man in a black suit with an odd helmet came forth, carrying a Toronto Star newspaper carrier bag over his shoulder. He stood on the porch and fired his AK-103 at the fan, destroying the speakers and causing Inspector Sleniak to dive to the ground as bullets tore through his van, going clear through both sides, and any of the expensive equipment in between, and then carrying on. The Inspector rolled on the grass and then moved behind an oak.

The man on the porch pulled off the empty clip and tossed it back through the door. Apparently someone inside would reload it. He reached into the newspaper carrier bag, and pulled out another clip. As soon as he had reloaded, he sprayed bullets across the van again, and then a minute later, again.

Steve lay in the grass, feeling Velma holding his shoulder. Neither spoke, or even moved. The shooter must realize they were still close, and he would look for them. They would have no chance, if spotted.

But the snipers from the SWAT team kept the shooter from concentrating on them by taking shots at him. Five or six bullets hit the man in the body, but bounced off. Steve realized that he was in some kind of body armor, and the sniper bullets could not penetrate. Steve could see bullets hit, and tear into the outer layer of cloth, but then bounce free. One bullet even hit his left cheek, and Steve heard a roar of anger from under the mask. The shot had not penetrated, but it must have hurt.

Soon a rhythm developed. When the shooter was reloading, the snipers at either the east or west trees would shoot at him. Then he would pour his next clip into the tree they were behind until it was empty. When he reloaded the clip, the snipers from the other tree would get off several shots, all totally ineffective.

After several iterations of this routine, the shooter pulled a fast one on the SWAT. He only fired 28 rounds and then paused as if to reload. When the snipers popped out, he fired the last two rounds.

There was a scream, and a policeman yelled out “Davis is hit.” Then a minute later the same voice called. “An arm wound. Tourniquet applied. He’s out of this one.”

----- -- --- -- --

Susan Bell was working at the local Tim Horton’s Cafe, where she was assistant manager. She was preparing for the rush of people coming in before going to work opening at 9 a.m., when one of the women coming in for the next shift mentioned that the radio station was reporting on a big police operation. She knew Susan’s husband was on the police, so asked what it was all about. Susan just turned on the radio and listened in horror as the local radio station’s one-man news force was reporting from the scene, or as near as she was allowed to get. A chill went down Susan’s spine. Her John was out there, and in danger. She had been trying to get him off the police force for years, after spending too many evenings alone at home as her children grew up, fearing the sight of two officers coming to her front door instead of her husband.

She went into the manager’s office, and announced that she was leaving.

“You can’t leave now, Susan,” the manager said. “I need you to look after the front.”

“I’m sorry, I don’t recall asking to leave,” she said tersely. “I told you I was leaving.”

“If you leave, don’t count on coming back,” the manager said sharply.

“No problem,” Susan took off her name badge and her visor cap, and placed them on his desk, turned and left.

She drove as fast as she dared to the church, and then tried to get up Oak Street, where the radio reporter said the action was.

“We have just heard a report of an officer being hit,” the voice on the radio said. “But there has been no action from the two EMT vehicles parked along side me. The police say it is unsafe for them to go to the aid of the officer.”

Susan shrieked as she heard that statement. She was sure that it was John who had been shot. He might be dead. She slammed on her brakes next to the radio station van, and jumped from the car, racing down the street.

“Stop. You can’t go that way ma’am,” a police officer called, not recognizing her. She kept running until a member of the Hobo Army took her down in a tackle. Then she heard another round of automatic bullets going off, and just broke down and cried.

“It’s not safe here,” the Hobo Army man told her gently. “But it would be a lot less safe to try and get back. Let’s just lay here until this is all over.”

“But John … my husband … is out there,” she sobbed. “He was shot.”

“I heard that the man who was shot is okay. It was an arm wound, and they put a tourniquet on him. He will be fine.”

John was only shot in the arm, Susan thought. But he could still die, if they couldn’t get the EMTs to him in time. Bleed to death. And there was nothing she could do to help. Except pray. So for the first time in 25 years, Susan reached out to the Lord.

----- - -- -- - ---

At 8:30 Delores Berrilia was making tea and toast for breakfast for herself and her guests, when the man with the camera came down from upstairs. “It’s starting,” he told Danko.

“We need to go downstairs, Mum,” he said.

“To the basement, Danny?” she replied. “I don’t know why. It is dark and icky down there. It is much nicer up here.”

“Let me carry the tray down,” Danko said. “Weems will help you down the steps.”

They barely reached the bottom of the stairs when the first blast of gunfire went off. Then there was a pause, and Mrs. Berrilia was asking if it was safe to go back upstairs. Just then the gunfire started in earnest. A few minutes later a bullet hit the front window upstairs, and the old lady screamed as her picture window shattered. She jumping into Danko’s arms for protection.

Over the next half hour there were countless bullets hitting the house above them, and the old woman was terrified. Mrs. Berrilia’s cat had peered upstairs twice but the second time a bullet had hit the wall a few feet above him, and he tore down the stairs in terror, winding up on the lady’s lap. Petting the frightened cat helped calm the frightened senior, but she took most solace from Danko holding her. She felt safe with him holding her.

---- --- -- - --

Constable Steve lay on the ground near the porch as the man above fired round after round. Constable Velma Cierra was next to him, partially covered by him as the assault weapon fired into the police SWAT van. The man with the gun needed to be stopped, and the sniper bullets from the SWAT sharpshooters seemed to be doing nothing. The man’s body armor was illegal in Canada. As was the assault weapon.

Steve counted rounds. It seemed there were 30 in a clip, and the man had many clips on him. But there was a few seconds of delay while he changed clips. Soon after the SWAT member had been hit, Steve listened until he heard the clicking that signified no bullets left, and rolled out onto the lawn, with his service revolver in position to shoot.

“Drop the weapon,” Steve yelled at the man, who glanced down at him. The man did seem to be armored, with a helmet covering all but his face, and numerous tears in the body armor where bullets had struck, but not penetrated. The man smiled as he clicked the new clip into place.

“Drop the weapon,” Steve yelled again, but the man just turned his gun towards the policeman. Steve prayed that a single shot from his gun would overpower the 30 rounds that were coming, or else his recent marriage would be a short one.

“Drop the …” He never finished the sentence as the assault rifle barrel rose and started to point at him. He fired a single shot from his revolver, and then another, aiming for the left eye both times. Astonishingly, both bullets went into through the small opening for the shooter’s eye, and then into his brain. The man dropped awkwardly, no doubt due to the body armor, and Steve heard a woman’s scream from the house.

Steve had his gun pointed at the shooter, lying on the ground when a woman burst from the door. She had a handgun and it was pointed at Steve. “You shot Marco,” the woman accused.

“Drop the gun,” Velma shouted. The woman glanced over at the other constable, who had her weapon out. Steve dove to the side. The woman on the porch had moved her gun towards Velma, but now directed it again at Steve, lying in the grass, trying to get his gun aimed at the woman.

“Drop the gun,” Velma screamed again. The woman didn’t, and suddenly Steve heard a shot, and saw a red rose appear on the woman’s forehead as she slowly dropped to the ground. “Oh God,” Velma cried out.

From inside the house Steve heard yells of “Don’t shoot. We don’t want to die.”

“Come out with your hands on your heads,” Steve yelled. He waved a ‘hold’ motion to the snipers.

Two men came out of the house. “The bitch started a fire in there,” one said. Velma trained her gun at the men as Steve pulled plastic restraints tightly over the men’s wrists.

“Nobody else in there?” Steve panted.

“Just the boys upstairs,” one man said. “They are toast by now,” the other said. “They were chained to the radiator up there. They ain’t getting out.”

Steve remembered the two heat sources in the original thermo shots. He ran into the house, taking the stairs three at a time as he noticed that the far wall of the room was completely in flame. This might not be a good idea, he realized as he reached the top of the stairs and turned right, in the direction where the heat sources had been. He almost tripped over one body, and heard another say: “We are chained. Help us!”

Steve had kicked a chain when he had stumbled over the unconscious body. He dropped to the floor, realizing that there was less smoke there, and found the chain again. It was not a heavy chain, just the quarter inch wire chain one might use to restrain a dog in a yard.

Steve got out his gun, and lay down to protect the boys behind him, and fired once, splitting the links. He pulled the chain free from the radiator. He could hear the conscious boy pull the chain out of his leg.

“Let’s get out of here,” Steve said. The smoke was getting thicker at the floor level now.

“Save Tyson,” the boy called.

“I got him. You head down the stairs. Just out the door to the left. There is a fire, don’t stop: just run past it and out the front door. I’ll be right behind with your friend.”

The boy left, and Steve picked up the unconscious Tyson, feeling some relief to hear the boy moan. He was alive, at least. He put the boy over his shoulder: he couldn’t weigh even 100 pounds. Then he started down the stairs.

Halfway down he nearly stumbled on the first boy, who had passed out on the stairs. Steve grabbed his collar, and kept going, aiming for the door, hoping he could stay conscious long enough to reach it. It seemed too far. Then he broke through into the light.

He wavered on the steps as EMTs rushed towards him, taking the boys, and then placing an oxygen mask on his face. He gulped in the pure air, and immediately got his balance back.

“Steve,” a sobbing Velma embraced him. “We did it. You saved me. You saved everyone.”

“No you saved me from that woman,” Steve said.

“Oh God. I’ve never pointed my gun at anyone in nearly 10 years,” she sobbed. “And now I killed someone.” Then she froze. She saw Steve’s new wife looking at her embracing her husband.

Helen walked up as Velma backed away. “It was nothing. Just a reaction to all the stress,” Velma confessed.

Helen lovingly stroked her husband’s chin as she walked by, and then wrapped her arms around the female officer. “You saved my husband’s life. I heard him say it. For that I am entirely grateful. Now we need to get you to the church. I know someone who can help with all the stress and pain you are feeling. You did nothing wrong today, and a whole lotta right. But I know you won’t believe that until you hear Him say so.” She turned to her husband. “You too.”

“Sorry ma’am, but we need to take him to the hospital,” an EMT said. “The first ambulance took the officer who was shot, and the next one will take these boys and your husband in. When the first one comes back, it will pick up these other two.” He gestured at the men who had surrendered.

“Then come to the church when you can, and bring those boys,” Helen told Steve before he got into the ambulance.

Velma and Ruth had only walked a few feet when they heard a low moan. It was Mrs. Berillia, who Danko had led out the back door when the shooting ended. She was staring at the front of her house, which looked like it was from a war zone, with dozens, if not hundreds of bullet holes piercing the front wall, and every window shot out.

“My house,” she moaned. Helen walked up and put her arms around the woman. She looked up. “Pastor Helen, look at what they did to my house.”

“The important thing is that you are alive, and it looks like Smokey is too.” The shivering cat was still in her arms.

“Yes, but he is so scared,” the lady said.

“Well, why don’t we take him to the church and get him settled down,” Helen said. “Does he like tuna? I think there are a few cans in the pantry.”

“He loves tuna,” she said. “Do you want some tuna, Smokey?”

Helen turned to look at the scene around her, to see if anyone else needed to go to the church. She saw Susan Bell standing next to her husband, alternately hugging and hitting him. She was glad to see that he was alive, and uninjured. Her fears had largely been created by her overactive imagination, but she insisted that John must retire from the force as soon as possible.

Helen put her arm around the shattered Velma, while Danko led Mrs. Berillia and Smokey back to the church. The ambulances on the scene had been replaced by fire trucks, with the entire Ingersoll volunteer company trying unsuccessfully to contain the blaze that now engulfed the house. A strong aroma of burning marijuana permeated the air. Newspaper and television reporters had now moved onto the scene, and the OPP were busy keeping them from disturbing the crime scene.

At the church Helen first took Velma to a prayer mat, and then sat with Mrs. Berillia, getting Smokey his promised can of tuna. The black cat ate happily from the saucer, and this calmed her down as well.

“I can’t go back home, can I?” the woman sighed.

“Not tonight, for sure,” Helen said. “And maybe not for a few days. But don’t you worry. Steve and I have a spare room in our house, several, in fact, and you can have your pick and stay there until everything settles down. Did you have insurance on your house?”

“Yes, I always kept that up,” she said. “I just hope there is enough. They did so much damage. So many bullets.”

“And luckily none of them harmed anyone we love,” the Pastor said. “Our service on Sunday will be one of Thanksgiving.”

“I feel so much better now,” Velma said as she approached them.

He forgave me, and I no longer feel the pressure of having shot someone. It was something I had to do, and it was my job. He said it saved Steve’s life, and maybe others. That is what I do. I took this job eight years ago to help people, and today I helped. I feel good about myself.”

He has a way of doing that for people,” Helen said. “I know you are not from this church, but I would appreciate it if you and your young man could come to my service Sunday morning. I want to thank you in front of the entire congregation for all you did. Jesus has promised me that one day Steve and I will sit on a porch swing with grandkids about us. He used you to keep His promise to me.”

“I would … we would love to come. This is such a pretty little church, and you seem so dedicated to helping people. I think we might even come more than the once.”

---- -- --- -- --

Rachael watched the television news with interest that afternoon after school. Word of the day’s events had gotten around the school from lunch on, and eventually the school let out an hour early once the school had been notified that the danger was past, so students and staff could go home and find out what was going on. Rachael sat with Grandpa, entranced in front of the TV as both the London and Kitchener television stations gave blanket coverage to the event.

There was no video of the actual gun battle, but several observers were able to explain it to the viewers. Gary, the police chief, the SWAT leader, and Steve gave one press conference. Another station got some comments from Velma, who was much more put together by then. She claimed Steve was the hero of the day, having saved her life twice: on the porch and then by shooting the bad guy. And she described his heroism in rushing into a burning building and carrying two unconscious boys out.

The boys were a story on their own. A year earlier the two had been selling themselves in the gay village area of Toronto when members of the gang abducted them. A massive manhunt ensued, and dominated the news in Toronto for several months, with the powerful Toronto gay community pressuring the police to find the boys. But there were no solid leads, and no one knew they had been locked up in Ingersoll.

The boys were chained up and made to work in a meth lab. When the gang came to check on them every other week, they had to have made an ever-increasing quota. If they were short, one of the boys was badly beaten. Only one, so the other could try to make the next quota.

They were in terrible conditions. Their only food was cans of spaghetti and macaroni, one per boy per day. Of course they both lost weight and were skeletal when Steve carried them out.

They had leg chains around one leg, and they had a 20-foot length that allowed them to work the kitchen for the meth lab, but not much else. They peed into the sink, and pooped into a bin in the corner that was dumped when the gang came to visit: if they had made quota. Otherwise it just built up over the weeks and created a horrible stench.

One boy was released from hospital, and although the networks wanted an interview, he was underage, and the police would not relate where he was staying. The other boy was in the hospital overnight. One reporter got as far as his room, but got no comments as he was still unconscious. That reporter got to spend the night in the Ingersoll jail, and was transferred to Woodstock for court the next morning. His station bailed him out, but the judge decided that his expensive camera and all its footage would be held until trial as evidence.

The whole family watched the coverage into the evening. Bobby was less interested, although he did sit through the interviews that Gary participated in.

“So who is more a hero,” Bobby asked at one point. “Grandpa or Constable Steve?”

“I can tell you this,” Grandpa said. “Steve Winslow and that lady cop were every bit as brave as we were in the war. For him to sit there while that brute fired his big gun off, and then make a plan to save his team: that’s what heros do. He deserves a medal just as much as I did. Maybe more.”

That night Rachael had a much different prayer.

Dear Lord

Thank you for saving all the local people today. It is insane what can happen when bad people get guns. Usually we just see this happening in the US, but today it was here, in our own little town.

Please let those boys be all right. They had been through a terrible time, and I hope they can recover from it. They deserve a break, and I am confident that you will provide them with something.

Amen



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